Q: How Do You Feed the Habit?

December 13, 2005 @ 3:29 am | Filed under: Books

A reader asks, “With so many beautiful books to choose from, how do I convince my husband to give me a healthy book-buying budget? What do you do in your family when it comes to adding to your library?”

Ah, the book budget…now there’s a subject. See that Erasmus quote in the sidebar? Gives you a pretty good idea of how we feel about books around here. And after my brief stint on the soapbox the other day about how, if a book’s author is still alive, I try always to buy the book new rather than used, the question is begged all the more.

If you saw my house, you’d have some idea of the answer. We’ve been here four years and I still don’t have curtains. Our furniture is unimpressive, to say the least. Most of it is the stuff our friends and family were looking to ditch when they got real furniture. And—working and educating at home as we do—no one in my family needs much in the way of a clothing budget. Believe me, I am not known for my fabulous taste in clothes—just my fabulous taste in books.

So that’s one way our home library has taken shape over the years: the book budget gets fed while the home decor and wardrobe budgets have to scrounge around for scraps and handouts. The vacation budget is, quite frankly, non-existent. A family trip means piling in the van for the three-minute ride to the library. I’m not saying it’s the most sensible ordering of one’s priorities; I’m just telling it like it is.

I mentioned the library. We LOVE our library. It’s teeny tiny but boasts the friendliest, sharpest staff in the state. And our county’s interbranch loan system is excellent (and free). A couple of mouse clicks and that book I’ve been dying to read is zipping its way toward me in the delivery van. And no, my heavy library use doesn’t, in my opinion, contradict my “buy books new to give authors their royalties” policy. Libraries pay for books. As an author, you better believe I want my books in frequent circulation in as many libraries as bookishly possible. Also, libraries themselves are important and worthy of support. I don’t know for sure, but I have to assume a branch’s budget is influenced by its circulation numbers. If so, my family’s checkout rate must surely have bumped our branch up a notch. Really, it’s almost insane, the vast quantities of books we carry in and out of that place. Scott’s there two or three times a week at least, not counting the Saturday outings when the whole gang goes.

But back to our own personal library. Because, you know, so many of the books I write about here are keepers. Here’s the main way we add to our overcrowded shelves. For Christmas and birthdays, we tend to go pretty light on family gifts. Each child gets a game, a toy, an outfit, and two books, one from each parent. (Of course the grandparents spoil them rotten.) The books have become an important family tradition. I usually give classic children’s novels like The Secret Garden or Peter Pan, and Scott’s custom has been to pick out special picture books. Every December (and before each birthday), he makes a special trip to the bookstore and spends a long time reading and choosing. He has brought home some real treasures over the years. He inscribes each book with the date and a funny note. The girls love going through the shelves to pick out their own special Daddy books. Our oldest is ten now and outgrowing picture books, but she treasures her Daddy books, and he’s been a whiz at finding books to entice her with, like Mistakes that Worked or So You Want to Be President, both mentioned earlier this week. One of these days I should do a post just listing his discoveries.

Anyway, with four kids and counting, this adds up over the years to a lot of books.

The other way our library has grown is via our education budget. I assume every family, whether public-schoolers, private-schoolers, or homeschoolers, winds up with a certain chunk of the budget earmarked for school or educational expenses. What I spend our education funds on is Really. Good. Books. I don’t buy textbooks and workbooks (except when Rose begs). I buy what Charlotte Mason called “living books”: books written by an author passionate about his or her subject, not books written by a committee; books that grab us and zoom us off to another time or place; books that get inside our heads and become a part of who we are. Google “living books” and “Charlotte Mason” and you’ll find loads of good essays on this subject; I needn’t belabor the point here. But it’s the rest of the answer to the question above: every year, instead of paying tuition or school fees, instead of buying separate school clothes and shelling out for the items on a supply list, instead of paying for formal homeschooling curricula or enrichment classes, I spend our education budget on really great books. (And games. And art supplies. And science experiment stuff. But mainly books.)

It’s one of the best parts of my job.


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